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The Romanovs Dynasty
April 3, 2006 14:26

The Time of Troubles ended with a new ruling house coming to power.

The Romanovs, till the 16th century bearing the surname of the Zakharyins-Yurievs, was an old Russian boyar kin that in 1613 turned to be the tzar’s and in 1721 the emperor’s family. The ancestor of the Romanovs was Andrei Ivanovich Kobyla who lived in the second quarter of the 14th century. The Romanovs bearing German and Polish-Lithuanian roots supposedly appeared in Rus’ in the late 13th century. The surname comes from Roman who lived in the 16th century and whose daughter Anastasia became the wife of Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible. Following the marriage of Ivan the Terrible to Anastasia Romanovna Zakharyina the family of the Zakharyins-Romanovs became close to the tzar’s court in the 16th century and after the cessation of the Moscow branch of the Rurik dynasty it started pretending to the crown. Ivan IV and Anastasia’s son Fyodor was the last tsar from the Rurik dynasty. Anastasia’s brother Nikita Romanovich (died in 1586) was Head of the Boyar Duma (parliament).

In 1613 Nikita’s grandson Mikhail Romanov (1613-1645) aged 16 was elected to rule the country, giving rise to the Romanovs dynasty that ruled the country for 304 years, till the Revolution of 1917.

The first three Romanovs stabilized the situation in the country but more time and action were required to liquidate the retardation of the Russian state from European countries in economical, industrial, trading, managing, educational, and military fields. With the 17th century a new period in Russian history started: small landed nobility substituted the boyars in power, but what was even more important - manufacturing began to play a significant role in production. However, the time of radical changes was still ahead, which became evident when the dynasty's strongest ruler, Peter the Great, came to power.

The Romanovs’ Reign Falls into Three Periods:

The first period – recovery after the Times of Troubles – encompasses the reign of tsars Mikhail (1613–1645), Alexei Mikhailovich (1645–1676) and Fyodor Alexeyevich (1676–1682). In this epoch Russia stood out as the leading Slavonic power that incorporated huge territories in the South and the West, including the left-bank Ukraine to Russian lands. Church and nobility subdued to the tsar’s power, whereas peasants were attached to the land and made property of the landowners.

The second period – reign of Peter I the Great (1682–1725), Catherine I (1725–1727), Peter II (1727–1730), Anna Ioannovna (1730–1740), Ivan VI (1740–1741), Elizabeth (1741–1761), Peter III (1761–1762) and Catherine the Great (1762–1796). During this period Russia turned into a prominent European Empire with powerful army and fleet and its dominion expanded on territories from the Baltic to the Black Seas. The dynasty of the actual Romanovs ceased with the death of Elizabeth giving way to the Holstein-Gottorp branch from Germany.

The last period fell on the reign of Pavel I (1796–1801), Alexander I (1801–1825), Nicholas I (1825–1855), Alexander II (1855–1881) and Alexander III (1881–1894). The victory in Napoleonic wars and expansion to Asia made Russia a world power. However, Russia’s internal development was still behind the Western countries, in spite of its fast economic growth and abolition of serfdom.

The Romanovs after 1917

In 1894 Nicholas II, the last Emperor from the Romanovs dynasty mounted the throne. The February revolution of 1917 uncrowned Nicholas, and later led to the execution of the tsar and his family by Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg on July 16, 1918.

By the beginning of 1917 the Romanovs dynasty numbered 32 male members, 13 of whom were executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918-19. Those who managed to flee, settled down in the Western European countries (France mainly) and the USA. In the 1920-30s the majority of the dynasty representatives still hoped for the collapse of the Soviet power and regaining monarchy in Russia.

All the contemporary representatives of the dynasty are descendants of the four sons of Nicholas I. Altogether by the beginning of 2007 the Romanovs kin counted 18 male representatives, six of whom were under the age of forty.

The Most Famous Romanovs:

Peter I (Peter the Great) Peter I (1682-1725) was an excellent example of the right person on the right place and in the right time. Peter's reforms were of vital importance for the country; they accelerated development of the Russian state and almost liquidated the retardation from European states, turning Russia into one of the most influential European powers. Peter was called 'the Great' not only for his height (224 cm) but also for his reforms, including modernization in the spheres of production, trade and agriculture, as well as foundation of the Russian fleet and the army reorganization. Peter I is also granted for gaining ways to the Baltic and Asov seas, as well as building the new Russian capital of Saint Petersburg at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland (the tsar’s residence moved here in 1713). Peter’s reforms were aimed at putting Russia among the greatest world powers. To do so, he enforced Western models of development in both political and social spheres. Being very curious and opened to everything new, having no prejudices against the foreign experience, the tsar undertook a diplomatic mission to learn more about the Western style of life and the latest technical achievements. He traveled like an ordinary man under an ordinary name, lived and worked among ordinary sergeants, learned several crafts and for some time even worked as a carpenter on a ship. He hired about a thousand foreign experts to work in Russia and to modernize its army, economy, industry and agriculture. Peter prohibited traditional dress for all men, forced boyars to cut their beards and get shaved regularly, enforced noble youths to study in educational institutions and insisted on changing the manners of the noble men and the boyars. He introduced a new calendar, simplified Russian alphabet, established the New Year celebrations on January 1, organized publication of the first Russian newspaper and ordered to create first theaters.

A new form of social life was borrowed from the West – an assembly. These were social gatherings, where women as well as men participated, which seemed revolutionary for that time. On assemblies new dresses and manners could be demonstrated, all developed according to the latest European trends.

During his reign Peter gained unlimited power in the country and was proclaimed emperor in 1721, leading to the Russian state getting the status of Empire. Peter the Great remains one of the most controversial figures in Russian history. Although he undertook reforms in almost all spheres of life in Russia, the question is which of them were favorable for his subjects and which were imposed rather before time. Peter’s rule was followed by a period of political instability that became known as "the epoch of palace revolutions", the last of which happened in the very beginning of the 19th century. However, the most troubled years were those from the death of Peter the Great in 1725 till 1762 – the year when Catherine the Great came to power. During this period the Russian throne was occupied by six different successors, whose accession, as well as ruling, was accompanied by intrigues and palace coups. One of these conspiracies brought to power a German-born princess, Catherine II, which really saved the situation.

Catherine II (Catherine the Great) or the first time since the reign of Peter the Great his policy got a serious successor. The reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796) is sometimes characterized as the Enlightened absolutism, referring to the empress’ interest in the ideas of Voltaire and Diderot. Catherine the Great corresponded with the leaders of the French Enlightenment, discussing ways of state development. Her reign was an epoch of great political and military leaders (G.A. Potemkin, A.V. Suvorov, F.F. Ushakov). Moreover, Catherine carried out several successful military campaigns, expanding Russia by acquiring territories including those in Crimea, "key for the Black Sea" - port of Ochakov, Belarus, Lithuania, right-bank part of Ukraine.

Alexander I Catherine’s epoch was followed by despotic and short reign of her son, Paul I (1796 – 1801), who was killed in the last "palace revolution". Paul’s successor, Alexander I (1801 -1825), opened the third century of the Romanovs’ ruling by aiming at liberal changes in the country’s life. Catherine’s favorite grandson, Alexander got a brilliant education and was very well acquainted with the ideas of the French Enlightenment. And some changes were really achieved, such as, for example, the government system improvement. In 1802 eight ministries, new executive authorities, were created, which contributed to the state centralization and strengthening. Besides, Alexander I appeared to be a successful military leader: his reign was marked by a glamorous victory over Napoleon troops in 1812, when Russia became the first country that stopped a gigantic advance of the French emperor. Nevertheless, Alexander did not solve the most urgent problems of the time, those concerning serfs’ status. The nobles’ opposition and other obstacles on the way towards liberal reforms led to the changes in Alexander’s policy that finally turned to reaction and even repressive measures. The last provoked formation of the secret political societies and open revolt in 1825, when young officers, who got the name of the Decembrists, demanded restriction of the absolute power of the monarch and freedom to the serfs. However, unrests were suppressed, as well as liberal ideas that became officially banned.

Nicholas I

Following the December events Nicolas’s I (1825 – 1855) reign started with a series of repressions against those intellectuals who opposed absolutist regime. As the emperor was quite successful in this, his reign is sometimes characterized by historians as the "apogee of absolutism". Nevertheless, new revolutionary thoughts were uneasy to extirpate and they went on developing throughout the century. Being modified and changed for many decades, such ideas periodically found their way out leading to tragic and irreversible events, among which was the assassination of Alexander II.

Alexander II

Successor of Nicolas I, Alexander II (1855-1881) carried out a range of reforms, one of the most distinguishing among which was granting a long-awaited freedom to the serfs. However, this did not save the emperor from terrorist act planned and realized by one of the revolutionary groups, the narodniki. The assassination of Alexander II shocked the society and led to another reign of tough censorship and suppressions.

Alexander III

Alexander III (1881-1894) started his reign with implementing a strict policy. Any intellectual activities that could somehow oppose the ruling power were banned. Liberal reforms of the previous tsar were backed. The emperor’s main aim was to maintain a strong absolute monarchy and a powerful empire. He got a byname of the "peacemaker" as during his reign Russia almost did not participate in military conflicts.

Nicholas II

Despite absolutist rule of Alexander III, the image of a strong empire was a shell that concealed a tangled knot of social and political contradictions and it was Alexander’s son, Nicolas II (1894-1917), who has to face them. However, less and less space for absolute monarchy was left and the number of its supporters also decreased. Radical changes were required to save the situation but Nicolas II did not appear to be the figure that could provide them. Defeat in Russian-Japanese war (1904-1905) made the situation even worse. Popular discontent was rising day by day.


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